Is Dip in Duke Applicants Tied to Lacrosse Case?

By Chris Wilson

January 4, 2007 — With the more serious charges dropped against three Duke lacrosse players accused of raping an exotic dancer last April, many in Durham, N.C., are hoping for a respite in the fervor of national attention that developed as the scandal unfolded–at least until the players go on trial this spring for lesser charges of sexual assault and kidnapping.

But in terms of the undergraduate class of 2011, the trouble may be only beginning. Duke’s office of admissions recently announced that applicants for the binding early decision admissions option were down 20 percent from the previous year’s 1,500, a consistent figure for the past few years. In spite of the small pool, 469 of those applicants were admitted to the school, almost identical to last year’s number.

The drop in early-decision applicants runs counter to a national trend of rising figures, particularly among elite universities, says David Hawkins, director of public policy for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Even in 2004, when the national trend in early applications briefly dipped, highly competitive schools continued to see rising numbers of applicants, he says.

While no one can say for certain how responsible the bad publicity is for the decline, the converse is often true: Schools making historic runs in athletics, for example, often enjoy a boost in applicants the next year. Andrew Flagel, dean of admissions at George Mason University, whose men’s basketball team made a Cinderella-like run to the Final Four championship series last year, saw a 20 percent boost in its nonbinding early-action program, a boost beyond its already growing numbers.

Steven Roy Goodman, a Washington, D.C.-based college admissions counselor, says at least two of his clients who might traditionally have considered applying early to Duke passed this year in favor of Northwestern and Cornell. Both were accepted.

“This story seems to never go away,” Goodman said. “It seems like it’s the O.J. Simpson trial of the college world.”

The university’s news office was quick to announce that, of those admitted early, “25 percent are students of color, representing a record for early decision.” Enrollment of minority students was of particular concern due to the specter of racism evoked by the incident, in which the alleged victim was black.

Applications for regular admission to Duke are due January 12.

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